The Grass Roots

I am a small-press author. While I would love to be able to share with you the secret to selling thousands of books and gaining hundreds of readers in a week’s time, I can’t do that. I can only share what I know as I go about building a foundation for what I hope will be a long and productive writing career.

I know about the grass roots effort. I know about face-to-face marketing. I know how to sell one book to one reader at a time. That may not sound very impressive, but it works, in time. I promise.

I operate on a basis I feel is imperative to my success: I am the person I present to you. I don’t go to great lengths to cultivate a sleek image I will never be able to maintain.

I’m awkward. I’m a geek. I have weird hobbies. On Facebook or Twitter, I don’t share sexy images of scantily-clad men as I link to my romance novel on Amazon. If I’m going to link to pretty half-dressed men, it will probably be Joe Manganiello, and it will be because…well, because it’s Joe.

Have I lost you yet?

I hope not, because I really believe that being yourself is a great way to connect with your readers. Now, I don’t mean you should log on to your Facebook and expose every bit of yourself, and every unedited thought. I simply think one shouldn’t be afraid to be vulnerable, on some levels.

I live in a terrible apartment complex. Half my posts are my (hopefully) amusing adventures of just trying to get to my parking spot without something bizarre happening. Without going off the deep end, I can share work stress, writing stress, single-and-still-looking stress, and it gets a response. People connect because of shared experiences. Seeing that someone else, even a recently discovered author, understands the day-to-day struggles can truly make a difference in earning a reader’s future loyalty. And I find myself drawn to people who chime in and make me realize I’m not alone in it all.

Another sure-fire way of connecting? Being appreciative, and meaning it. When I get a great review, it really does thrill me. I try to make a point of sending a general public ‘thank you’ out into the internet ether, in case that reader visits my website or my social networking pages. It doesn’t have to single out the reviewer and, in fact, I’d advise against that. But a brief, general show of gratitude certainly can’t hurt. Taking the time to do so has opened the door to, not just new readers, but new friendships.

Don’t forget your hometown, when it comes to networking and promoting your work, no matter how small. The people you grew up with, teachers, doctors, high school friends…they’re all potential buyers, and they’re all potential marketing help. Some examples of what I consider my own special brand of guerilla marketing:

My mother.

Never underestimate the power of Mom. I have an octogenarian armed with business cards. No doctor’s exam, shopping trip, or grocery run goes without her leaving cards or talking up my books. Maybe it’s guilt, maybe they think her exuberance is adorable. Either way, I see traffic increase on my website when she puts a fresh batch of cards in her purse.

The lady who cut my hair when I was in high school.

There’s an awful lot of traffic through her salon, and a lot of that traffic, including some in book clubs, have heard about my stories.

Friends and family.

They namedrop. They corner people they know are avid readers and they recommend you. They are first in line to buy your book and share links with all their friends. These people are as important as any blog tour you can book for yourself when you have a new release. Utilize them, and never forget their value as promoters and as people you are incredibly lucky to have in your life.

Most importantly, if you want to gain a foothold in the marketing game, step outside of your comfort zone. I am an extreme introvert, but I have participated in radio interviews, and was a faculty member at the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference. Never say no when the only reason to decline is your own fear. Experiment. Try new things. Take risks. Five years ago, if someone would have told me that I’d be a published author, I’d  have laughed until I cried. Swallowing my fear and opening a blank Word document and typing the first sentence of my own story led me to this incredible journey I’m on now.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Take the time to connect, one reader at a time. You’ll never have a stronger foundation for your own writing journey.

J.M. Kelley is the author of Drew in Blue, Daddy’s Girl, and the soon to be released Almost Magic. A fourth novel, She Let Herself Go will be released in early 2014. For more information, please visit


  1. You have a lot of good information today about what it takes to get your name out there and sell your books. It has to be hard when an author doesn't have the big name publishers behind them for support....not that they do 100% of the networking necessary to sell books. That still falls in the hands of the author. Of all the means of self-promotion available today, what methods has proven to be most successful for you?

    kareninnc at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Karen,

      I'd posted a response but it appears the internet devoured it. Ultimately I think being accessible and conversational helps most for me. Facebook is my weapon of choice, though the PTB there have made utilizing pages nearly impossible without dropping money on each post. I've moved back to using my standard account as my author page, to maintain reach. I try to answer questions when people message me, and I try to keep it real. I think, at this stage of the game, authors need to remember to be more accessible, and do more than post daily photos or quotes. People get invested in the idea of helping a regular person succeed in chasing their dreams, and I keep that in mind as I interact. And I make sure they know I appreciate it when they lend a hand in sharing the word, which in turns helps broaden my readership.

  2. Sounds like a compelling read.


  3. Sounds like you have succeeded although you don't live a life of luxury. Sounds sort of like my life.

  4. I think people are surprised on how difficult it is to promote books. It is an ongoing process that takes a lot of hard work.

  5. Nice post

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  6. You can never discount word of mouth. A lot of books I read are recommended to me by family & friends.


  7. Thanks to everyone for commenting, and thanks for hosting, W&A!


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